Can Buffalo overcome its racial inequities? The answer isn't black and white

Jun 19, 2020

This year's Juneteenth may spark more demonstrations than celebrations, as tensions remain high after the recent death of George Floyd and other African Americans during encounters with police. Juneteenth historically recalls that day in 1865 when the enslaved flooded the streets of Galveston, TX to celebrate their newly announced freedom. But its 2020 observance also begs a look at systemic racism in its modern form.


"I think now, more than ever, we need Juneteenth."

Those were the words of Dayatra Hassan, a board member of the Juneteenth Festival of Buffalo, as organizers raised the African Liberation flag in Niagara Square on June 1. It was the same day thousands marched through the city in protest.

Protests and violence erupted worldwide after teh death-by-police of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Credit John Minchillo / Associated Press

Demonstrations erupting locally and across the world sparked by George Floyd's killing have been begging for a resolution to the racial inequities between blacks and whites. Buffalo, itself, has sat near the top of most-segregated cities in the nation for two decades, but the University at Buffalo's Regional Institute estimates an additional $12 billion in wealth for area families if racial gaps are closed.

Here is a current snapshot of the city:

POPULATION
+ The latest U.S. Census figures put Buffalo's population at just over 261,000. About 47% identify themselves as white, 37% as black and 4% as more than one race.

+ Communities of color are spread throughout the city, but are more heavily concentrated in the northeast. Several neighborhoods on the East Side are at least 92% people of color, while southeast neighborhoods are mostly white.

INCOME
+ Black families in Buffalo earn an average of $24,700 a year, while white families average nearly double that, at $44,000 a year. That is about $8.50 more per hour.

+ Data USA says the highest-paid jobs held by city residents are law enforcement, including supervisors, who average more than $69,000 a year. That compares to a median salary of about $56,000 for Erie County and nearly $61,000 for New York State.

Credit Prison Policy Initiative, Feb. 2020

+ Before the pandemic, the Labor Department reported unemployment across Buffalo was 4.9%. That is lower than the national rate for blacks, at 6%. However, unemployment for blacks in the city was nearly twice that of whites and unemployment in some East Side neighborhoods exceeded 20%. 

POVERTY
+ According to the U.S. Census, Buffalo's poverty rate is about 30%, compared to a national rate of 13%, and it has remained nearly the same for the last 15 years.

+ Deep poverty is also concentrated in Buffalo. The Partnership for the Public Good found, of those households living on less than $10,000 a year, nearly half are in Buffalo.

+ The black poverty rate in Buffalo is nearly 40%, while the white poverty rate is about 26%. That compares to a poverty rate of about 14% for the Buffalo-Niagara region.

+ Nearly a quarter of city residents receive monthly SNAP benefits - the average benefit in the U.S. is $238 per household, $121.30 per person, according to the USDA - while four out of five Buffalo Public Schools students in K-12 qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

CRIME
+ Crime has dropped every year over the last decade in Buffalo, but the crime rate per 100,000 people is still twice the U.S. average and greater than 96% of other U.S. cities, according to Data USA.

+ For violent crimes - which include murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault - the FBI ranks Buffalo #17 among cities with populations larger than 250,000. That is higher than Chicago and nearly twice the rate of New York City.

+ Forbes' most recent list of the nation's most dangerous cities ranks Buffalo #11.

This chart shows the number of Buffalo residents in prison in 2010, by Common Council district.
Credit Prison Policy Initiative

QUALITY OF LIFE
+ The CDC reports the life expectancy of blacks in Buffalo is five years shorter than whites, but in East Side neighborhoods where the minority population is nearly 100%, the life expectancy is 10 years less than the state average of 81.

+ 41.5% of city residents are on Medicaid and 6.1% of residents under age 65 have no health insurance.

+ The high school graduation rate of white students from Buffalo Public Schools is about 75%, compared to 60% for black students, according to the district. Only about a quarter of adults over age 25 in Buffalo have a bachelor's degree or higher.

+ About 41% of homes in Buffalo are owner-occupied, but less than 30% of black families in the Buffalo-Niagara region own a home, while nearly three-quarters of white families do, according to the Partnership for the Public Good.

+ The average rent is $757, but more than half of city households - or 55% - cannot afford their rent. Public housing in Buffalo is nearly 90% minority.

+ About 32% of the city's 15,000 firms are minority-owned, according to the U.S. Census, but black Buffalonians are 6 times more likely to live in a neighborhood without a grocery store than white residents.

The closing event for this year's Juneteenth Festival of Buffalo, Maafa, will be held in Broderick Park on June 21 at 6 p.m. The festival describes Maafa as "an opportunity to reflect and heal from the atrocities that were inflicted on Africa and African people."

WBFO's Nick Lippa and Michael Mroziak contributed the additional audio for this story.